Working Memory Predicts New Word Learning Over and Above Existing Vocabulary and Nonverbal IQ

Shelley I. Gray, Roy Levy, Mary Alt, Tiffany P. Hogan, Nelson Cowan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Purpose: The purpose of this study was to use an established model of working memory in children to predict an established model of word learning to determine whether working memory explained word learning variance over and above the contributions of expressive vocabulary and nonverbal IQ. Method: One hundred sixty-seven English-speaking second graders (7-to 8year-olds) with typical development from two states participated. They completed a comprehensive battery of working memory assessments and six word learning tasks that assessed the creation, storage, retrieval, and production of phonological and semantic representations of novel nouns and verbs and the ability to link those representations. Results: A structural equation model with expressive vocabulary, nonverbal IQ, and three working memory factors predicting two word learning factors fit the data well. When working memory factors were entered as predictors after expressive vocabulary and nonverbal IQ, they explained 45% of the variance in the phonological word learning factor and 17% of the variance in the semantic word learning factor. Thus, working memory explained a significant amount of word learning variance over and above expressive vocabulary and nonverbal IQ. Conclusion: Results show that working memory is a significant predictor of dynamic word learning over and above the contributions of expressive vocabulary and nonverbal IQ, suggesting that a comprehensive working memory assessment has the potential to identify sources of word learning difficulties and to tailor word learning interventions to a child’s working memory strengths and weaknesses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1044-1069
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Volume65
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing

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